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Chapter Eight

A POLITICAL storm now blew and started a conflagration that
<*"* burned down the house of Sung. It started with a fight between
the state capitalist Wang Anshih, the "Bull-headed Premier", and the
opposition, which comprised the entire officialdom, a generation of men
selected and nurtured for government leadership in the atmosphere of
intellectual freedom under the wise emperor Jentsung. It is necessary
to understand the nature of the political battle because the party strife
shadowed Su Tungpo's entire life.

One of the earliest extant copies of Chinese vernacular literature,
presaging the advent of the novel in China, was a short story entitled
"The Bull-headed Premier" (Yao Shiangbung). It is a collection of
short stories in the vernacular of Sung dynasty times, recently dis-
covered, and it shows that soon after Wang Anshih's death he was
known by this nickname in- folk literature. The tragedies of the
political strife arose from the defects of character of a man who was
unable to take good advice and unwilling to admit a mistake. Friends'
opposition to Wang Anshih only increased his determination to carry
through his policy. Determination of character, we are told, is a great
virtue, but a qualification is necessary: so much depends upon what a
man is determined to* do. It is entirely possible that Wang Anshih,
remembering the homely adage he had heard as a schoolboy that deter-
mination was a key to success, mistook mulish obstinacy for that desir-
able virtue. In his lifetime Wang Anshih was known among the
literati as a man of "three not-worths""God's anger is not worth
fearing, public opinion is not worth respecting, and the tradition of
the ancestors is not worth keeping." It was a label given by Su Tungpo.

The "Bull-headed Premier", brooked no opposition from any quarter,
friends or foes. Being a good talker and able to persuade the young
emperor of his programme for building up a strong state, he was
determined to carry his socialistic programme through. This implied
the silencing of opposition in general, and the silencing in particular
of the imperial censors, whose official duty was to criticise the policies
and conduct of the government and act as the "channel of public
opinion". It was the Basis of Chinese political philosophy that a .good
government "kept the channels of opinion open" and a bad govern-
ment did not. It was therefore natural that, having begun with ques-
tions of the new measures themselves, the fight very soon surged around
a more fundamental issue, the issue of freedom of criticism and dissent.